Kenya is a country in Eastern Africa. Its Indian Ocean coast lies between Somalia to the north east and Tanzania to the south. Its other surrounding countries are Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north and Uganda to the west.
Although made up of many diverse ethnic groups and tribes, Kenyans have strong sense of national pride which may be due in part to unity in the struggle for Uhuru (Kiswahili: “freedom”) – independence from British colonial rule, achieved in 1963. Most Kenyans seem optimistic about the country’s future.
Kenya has a tropical climate. It is hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the north and northeastern parts of the country. The country receives a great deal of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning. Also given that Nairobi is at a high altitude, it can be quite cold even during the day between June and August. The long rain season occurs from April to June. The short rain season occurs from October to December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and coldest in July to August.
The annual animal migration – especially migration of the wildebeest – occurs between June and September with millions of animals taking part. It has been a popular event for filmmakers to capture and its now classified as the eighth wonder of the world.
Kenya has some of the world’s best game reserves where you can see some of the finest African flora and fauna. The parks are famous for lions, giraffes, elephants and huge herds of zebras, wildebeests and buffalos.
If you are on a tight schedule or even when on transit and you have a few hour to spare take a game drive in the Nairobi National Park found less than 20 minutes drive from the Central Business District. You need to have a transit visa to move out of the airport facilities
The annual wildebeest migration (from Maasai Mara to the Serengeti) is an awesome sight and best experienced in a balloon safari. Bookings to watch the migration are best done months in advance due to the high demand and limited lodging available in the Mara. Migration is during August and September.
Kenya also is a great destination for beach holidays, with several located along the coastal regions; Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, and Watamu
Kenya is also becoming a golf holiday destination, with an abundance of beautiful golf courses around the major urban areas. Green fees range from US$15-40 per round, plus a US$5-7 caddy fee.
- Nairobi — The capital city and economic centre of Kenya
- Garissa — A predominantly Muslim town in the east close to Somalia
- Kabarnet — Gateway town for Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria
- Kisumu — The major town of the west, on the shore of Lake Victoria
- Lamu — Main town of the Lamu Archipelago
- Lodwar — In the north on the main route to South Sudan with access to Lake Turkana
- Malindi — The landing point of Vasco Da Gama in Kenya
- Mombasa — Historic port on the Indian Ocean seafront and probably Africa’s longest continuously settled town
- Nakuru — Lake Nakuru National Park and an active volcano
- Eldoret — The training spot of long distance athletes
- Aberdares National Park — cool and cloudy Rift Valley park with lots of large game, and over 250 species of bird recorded
- Amboseli National Park — a swampy lowland Maasai park that is one of the best places anywhere in Africa to view large mammals
- Lake Nakuru National Park — a stunning 400 species of bird have been recorded here including the largest flocks of Flamingos anywhere on earth
- Maasai Mara National Park — probably the most popular reserve in Kenya due to the high concentration of large cats
- Mount Kenya National Park — challenging trekking on high peaks
- Nairobi National Park — virtually in Nairobi and a great option to see large game for those on a tight schedule
- Tsavo East National Park — major game park on the main road from Nairobi to Mombasa
- Tsavo West National Park — popular destination on account of its magnificent scenery, Mzima Springs, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, rhino reserve, rock climbing potential and guided walks along the Tsavo River.
- Meru National Park – It has a wide range of wild beasts like elephant, hippopotamus, lion, leopard, cheetah, black rhinoceros and some rare antelopes.
- Shimba Hills National Park
- Sibiloi National Park – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a part of Lake Turkana National Parks.
- Mount Elgon National Park
More information on the national parks can be found here:
Local laws and customs
Smoking in all public places (except in designated areas) is prohibited throughout Kenya. This applies to areas such as hotel grounds, lounge areas and entrances. If you wish to smoke in your hotel room please confirm first with hotel management that it is permitted. Offences attract fines ranging from 50,000 to three million Kenya shillings and/or imprisonment for six months to three years.
The use and trafficking of illegal Class A drugs in Kenya carries heavy fines and jail sentences. The penalty for possession is ten years imprisonment.
You must obtain a valid work permit before taking up any paid or volunteer work in Kenya; the penalties for not doing so can be a fine, jail or deportation depending on the nature of the offence.
Taking photographs of Government buildings, including Embassies, is not recommended and can lead to detention. If in any doubt about what a building is used for, do not photograph it or film around it.
Permission to carry any kind of firearm must be obtained from the Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Goverment authorities prior to entry.
It is illegal to destroy Kenyan currency whatever the denomination.
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see it’s advisable to report to the nearest police station and inform your Embassy/consulate
It is advisable to have your local currencies converted to Dollars, Euros or British pounds which can easily be converted to Kenya Shillings. ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and the main towns. Credit cards and travelers’ cheques are widely accepted.
To obtain a Kenyan Visa you will require
- a) A passport whose validity is over 6 months with at least two adjacent blank pages
- b) Two visa application forms duly filled, signed and dated.
- c) Two copies of an Invitation letter/ Cover letter from a tour company/hotel booking from the applicant.
- d) Two copies of identity card if host is Kenyan.
- e) Two copies of valid residential work permit if host is a foreigner.
- f) Two copies of marriage certificate if visiting spouse.
- g) Two passport size photographs of the applicant.
- h) Two copies of valid Passport/travel document of the applicants Bio data page and page showing validity of at least six months.
- i) Two copies of medical referral letter from a hospital or a doctor for medical cases.
- j) Two copies of applicants residential/work permit if not residing in their country.
- k) Visa fee is USD 50
- l) Referral fee is USD 10
Visas are not required for the following nationalities: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cyprus, Dominica, Ethiopia , Fiji island, Grenada, Ghana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia*, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa*, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe. (Countries marked with a ‘*’ are limited to 30 day visa-free stays; longer visits will require a visa.)
For citizens of other countries/territories, visas may be obtained through a Kenyan embassy/consulate prior to departure, valid for three months from the date of issue. The current costs for tourist visas are: USD20 (transit), USD50 (single-entry), and USD100 (multiple entry). Unlike some countries’ visas, the application for a Kenyan visa is short (1 page) and not very detailed and will be prepared in one working day.
Alternatively, visas are available for purchase on entry at international airports for almost all nationalities.
Nationalities from the following countries require referred Visas and are not eligible for visa on entry, and must apply beforehand: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cameroon, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Palestine, Senegal, Somalia, Syria, and Tajikistan.
Holders of a single-entry visa to Kenya can re-enter the country if they have only gone to the following neighboring countries: Rwanda, Burundi Tanzania, and Uganda.
Kenya Airways (KQ) is the national airline. KQ has extensive regional Johannesburg-South Africa, Harare-Zimbabwe, Cairo-Egypt, Entebbe-Uganda, Accra-Ghana, etc) and international connections (Dubai-UAE, London-UK, Amsterdam-Netherlands, Mumbai-India, etc). It is also a Sky Team associate member.
Kenya has three International airports:
- Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) in Nairobi.
- Moi International Airport in Mombasa.
- Eldoret International Airport (local flights and cargo only).
Jomo Kenyatta is the primary arrival point for visitors flying into Kenya. There are excellent flight connections provided by KQ to major tourist destinations such as Mombasa, Kisumu and Malindi.
Major airlines that serve NBO are:
- Emirates Airlines – (Moscow-Dubai-Nairobi)
- Qatar Airways – (Moscow-Doha-Nairobi)
- KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) – (Moscow – Amsterdam- Nairobi)
- Turkish Airlines (Moscow- Istanbul- Nairobi)
- Aeroflot (Moscow-Dubai- (Kenya Airways) Dubai-Nairobi)
- Air India
- Air Malawi
- Air Mauritius
- Air Seychelles
- Air Uganda
- British Airways
- Brussels Airlines
- Egypt Air
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Gulf Air
- Air Tanzania
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
An increasing number of airlines are flying to Kenya, and Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has become a hub for East and Central Africa. National carrier and biggest airline in the country is Kenya Airways, which (among others) also provides direct flights from Nairobi to several West African countries, e.g., Lagos in Nigeria, Bamako in Mali, as well as direct flights to Bangkok and connections to Hong Kong and China. A recent code-share agreement with Korean Airlines has also brought the Korean peninsula within reach.
Train services link only Kenya’s major cities. There is no passenger train service linking Kenya with neighboring countries, though there are cargo lines.
All neighboring countries can be accessed including Ethiopia via the border town of Moyale, Uganda via Busia or Malaba, and Tanzania via Namanga. Regular bus services operate between:
Nairobi (Kenya) & Arusha (Tanzania); Nairobi (Kenya) & Kampala (Uganda); Mombasa (Kenya) & Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania); Kisumu (Kenya) & Kampala (Uganda);
Traveling by boat is limited to Lake Victoria (e.g., Mwanza in Tanzania to Kisumu in Kenya) and the coastal area (e.g., Mombasa-Zanzibar cruises).
Kenya Airways (KQ) offers the most scheduled connections from JKIA and regular daily flights to the following destinations: Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. A return flight from Nairobi to Mombasa will cost about USD 150. Online booking is available. Check in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and two hours for international. Pay attention to the announcements while at the airport.
A low-cost airline Fly540 also flies from JKIA and offers scheduled connections to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kisumu and Maasai Mara. A return flight to Mombasa from Nairobi will cost about USD 100 (without tax). Online booking is possible. Another airline Airkenya flies from Wilson Airport Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki and Samburu. Jetlink flies from Nairobi to Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.
Most charter tourists fly directly to either of the coastal airports of Mombasa or Malindi.
English and Swahili are the two official languages. You can get by with English in the larger cities and when dealing with those connected to the tourism industry as well as the well-educated upper class, but, outside of that, a few words of Swahili go a long way.
Local languages, such as Maa spoken by the Maasai, are common in more remote areas. You will still usually be able to find a local who can speak Swahili — although in such areas a guide will be indispensable. Sheng (a slang of English, Kiswahili and local languages) is spoken mostly by urban youths.
Kenya is famous for many handicrafts, which are often the signature of a particular tribe or region. Look for Kisii stone (soap stone) carvings, Maasai jewelry, Mkonde wood carvings, Lamu chairs and batiks. The largest selection of handicrafts can probably be found at the Maasai Market which rotates and can be found at different locations within Nairobi, which include Maasai items such as beaded jewellery, decorated gourds and the distinctive red-checked blankets worn by all Maasai men make good souvenirs. For example, on Sundays, they are at Yaya Centre near Hurlingham, and, on Saturdays, they can be found at the Central business district near the law courts parking space.
Khanga, kitenge and kikoi cloths are ideal to use as sarongs (common in East Africa for both men and women)
Kenyan baskets made from sisal and leather are also popular.
The city and town centers usually have markets that sell curios such as African drums, old brass and copper, batiks, soapstone knick-knacks, carved chess sets, and large wooden carvings of animals or salad bowls carved from a single piece of teak, mninga or ebony.
On Fridays, they are at the Village Market in Gigiri, near the UN headquarters. Gigiri, just like Yaya Centre, is a plush suburb, so vendors price their goods accordingly. There is also a fine selection of stores selling craft goods in Mombasa, where the atmosphere is somewhat more relaxed. However, the best prices can be found by buying direct from the artisans in their villages in the countryside.
Apart from the typical souvenirs such as wood carvings, it may be a good idea to buy one of the large books with photos of wildlife, nature, or culture.
Do listen to and buy some local Kenyan music. Exporting souvenirs made from wildlife skins (this includes reptiles) and shells are forbidden.
Nairobi has some of the finest eating establishments in Africa. Many different cuisines and types of restaurants are available, from fast food to five-star hotels with exotic cuisines have attached fine restaurants, which are expensive but worth it if you are looking to not get a true Kenyan cuisine. Restaurants are called “hotels” and there are many in Nairobi, if you stop by make sure you try Pilau-a chicken and rice dish, cabbage and rice; and the staple food in Kenya-Ugali, made from maize flour which can be eaten with many different kinds of stew. Street food is also definitely worth a try and usually safe to eat, Mandazi are sweet bread-like treats that are often sold on the street, maze grilled with a side of chili to add on is a wonderful snack and very cheap, samosas are awesome and don’t be hesitant to try all the other yummy stuff they’re selling! Also, fruit stand are everywhere-the mangoes and avocados are to die for and can be bought for less than a dollar. Many restaurants can be found downtown and in the areas of Westlands and Hurlingham. Among the many cuisines available are Indian, Brazilian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, German and French restaurants. Fast food restaurants, Steers, Nandos, Chicken in are common in the larger urban areas.
Kenyans love their beer. Mostly it will be served with roast meat which is locally referred to as “Nyama choma”. Tusker is Kenya’s biggest brand. Other brands include Guinness, Pilsner, White Cap Lager, and Smirnoff. Imported beers are available in supermarkets and better hotels, but the prices are usually high. But imported Tanzanian beer like Kilimanjaro and Safari tend to be cheaper than even Tusker. In local bars, beer will cost about USD 2 but in up market bars it will cost 3-4 USD Imported and local wines and spirits are widely available. There is an excellent selection of soft drinks especially from the Coca Cola stable.
However you should remember that there restrictions to the drinking hours with most bars selling Alcohol only between 1700hrs and 2300 hrs during the week days and 1400hrs and 2300 hrs on Saturdays and Sundays However restaurants can sell alcohol to you at any time as long as you’re consuming it together with food.
Major towns in Kenya like Nairobi Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu have a wide variety of tourist hotels, from five-star establishments to guesthouses In addition, the Intercontinental and Hilton chains are also represented as well as a number of very highly regarded local chains (Serena and Sarova Hotels). The costs range from USD 100 for standard single room to USD 500 for business suites. Most hotels offer bed and breakfast
Home stays are increasingly gaining popularity. Part of the reason is that one is able to experience Kenyan culture in a deeper and more meaningful way. Most homes charge about $20 per night inclusive of meals. Some may include laundry on that price.
People staying longer-term may rent accommodation. The prices may vary from estate to estate with fully furnished apartments ranging between USD 100 to USD 150 per day or for long term rental that range between USD 1,000 and USD 2,000
Kenya has a developed education system, which has a 8-4-4 system, with 8 years of primary, 4 years of secondary and 4 years of university education. It is undergoing slow but sure development through the effort of the government. There are a number of schools in Kenya, including some international schools which incorporate international systems of education like American, British, French and German
There are 30 universities in Kenya, 7 of which are public and 23 private. The 7 public universities have a total of 12 constituent colleges; The University of Nairobi is the oldest university in Kenya. There are a number of National polytechnics, institutes of technology and technical training institutes.
If you are coming to live and work in Kenya, you should be aware that it is illegal to work without a permit and this also applies to voluntary work and to the self-employed. There are numerous opportunities for volunteering in Kenya, whatever skills you have. The main areas include education, conservation, community development, or a number of similar areas. Kenya’s English-speaking history and relative stability (despite recent events following the disputed 2007 elections) make it extremely well suited for this kind of work. In most cases, volunteering can be undertaken with a standard tourist visa, although it is worth checking with your host organization before travelling as the authorities may not always take this view.
It is perfectly possible to see much of Nairobi without incident if you take sensible precautions. Stay alert when walking or driving through Nairobi. You should be careful always to be aware of your surroundings and, if possible, ensure that you have a guide with you. Particularly avoid walking after dark. Take a taxi if you can afford or a bus if you cannot afford a taxi. The Hotel should be able to organize for you to hire a Taxi.
Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and property, particularly tempting objects such as cameras, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, etc. especially in public areas.
Take special precautions if travelling by road to the North and North Eastern part of the country. Armed convoys are normal for this part of the country. Visitors to Lake Turkana (indicated on the map as Lake Rudolf) in the northwest and Lamu in the northern end of the coast should travel there by air. Lodwar, Lokichogio (‘Loki’) and Moyale are towns best avoided by the casual traveler, unless you have business with the humanitarian organizations based there.
Yellow Fever vaccination is NOT a requirement for travelers visiting Kenya. If travelling to other East African countries, you should have a yellow fever vaccination so as to prevent complications and paying of bribes at the border. These can be administered at an affordable price at most reliable Nairobi clinics and hospitals.
If you get such symptoms within twelve months of returning home, seek a doctor’s advice very quickly and immediately tell him where you have been in the last year. Delayed treatment, even by just a few hours, can lead to permanent brain and liver damage or death.It is advisable to have travelers and accident insurance.
Although Kenya is predominantly Christian and somewhat liberal, there are areas with major Muslim influence, such as the Coastal regions, where it is considered indecent to wear short dresses. This is true in rural Christian areas as well.
Beachwear is acceptable on the beach but not while strolling around town. Even though some hotels allow topless or nude sunbathing, these are in restricted areas and not in public areas.
Kissing or heavy petting is frowned upon in public, even though Kenyan youth engage in both liberally in night clubs.
Homosexuality is against the law. Any overt displays of homosexuality may, at times, result in open hostility. It is best to be discreet if engaging in any such activities with travel mates or locals. However, it is customary to hold a same sex person’s hand while engaged in conversation.
Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Expect prices around 1 KShs (USD 0.012) per minute. However, if you intend to stay for longer period and require using internet on the move, it is advisable to buy a modem or an Internet enabled handset since all mobile providers in Kenya provide internet access. a modem costs between USD 25 and USD 120
Kenya has three mobile network operators: Safaricom, Airtel and Orange with both Safaricom and Airtel having a national coverage. Some areas may experience weak signal especially as you move away from the major towns
All starter SIM cards need to be registered with the service providers. Registration is done at the point of sale and connection is expected within thirty minutes. To register you will be required to produce a form of identification mostly a passport for foreigners. You may wish to make use of your tour guide or a native to do the purchase and registration